Somali Jihad ending as Islamists routed by Ethiopian military - embassy bombing suspects being hunted
December 30, 2006
Somalia's prime minister said Sunday that the suspects in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa are sheltering in the stronghold of his country's militant Islamic movement.
"If we capture them alive we will hand them over to the United States," Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told The Associated Press.
The three men Comorian Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani, a Sudanese are al-Qaida suspects and are under U.S. indictment for the 1998 bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds of people.
"We know they are in Kismayo," Gedi said. "We would like to capture or kill these guys at any cost. They are the root of the problem."
Gedi said he had spoken Sunday to the U.S. ambassador in Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, about ensuring the Kenyan border with Somalia is sealed to prevent the three escaping. "We will get them," he said..."
Not a shot was fired yet the Somali jihad was suddenly over...
Xan Rice, in Nairobi
Ali Mohamed Ghedi, Prime Minister in Somalia's transitional government - an irrelevance until last week - rode triumphantly into Mogadishu on Friday, announcing the end of 'terrorism' in the country. Ethiopia, which together with the US has stoked fears about the rise of a terrorist state in the Horn of Africa, was basking in the success of a campaign that was swifter and more successful than anyone had predicted.
'Nobody expected the Islamists to show this little political resilience,' said Matt Bryden, a consultant to the conflict-monitoring body, International Crisis Group. 'They were the first movement to pacify southern Somalia for 16 years, yet they crumbled like a pack of cards.'
Despite US and Ethiopian optimism, it remains unclear whether the military victory represents a new dawn for Somalia or merely a return to anarchy and the beginning of a deadly new insurgency.
In June this year, when the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) first took control of Mogadishu, the capital was transformed. A ruined city of warlord-controlled fiefdoms became largely safe. Guns disappeared from the streets. Not everybody approved of the SCIC, which started as 11 different clan-based courts of justice, but few in Mogadishu could deny that life was better under the Islamists. Outsiders' fears of an 'African Taliban' seemed misplaced.
But it was also clear that the Islamic courts were not a homogeneous group. Some favoured a moderate form of Islam, consistent with liberal Somali culture. Others backed floggings, shut down cinemas screening football matches and wanted women to wear veils. When Hassan Dahir Aweys, who appears on both US and UN terror lists and founded the al-Ittihad al-Islami movement allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, was appointed as overall head of the SCIC, it immediately rang alarm bells in Addis Ababa and Washington.
During the Nineties, Aweys was blamed for a series of bombings in Ethiopia and has made no secret of his desire for a 'greater Somalia' that would include the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Not only was Aweys's appointment a signal that hardliners in the courts might have the upper hand, he was also the mentor to the radical Shabaab military wing of the courts, which had been linked to numerous political assassinations.
The US, which has a large military base in Djibouti, Somalia's neighbour, faced a dilemma. It had been embarrassed by its policy of backing an alliance of warlords who had failed to stop the Islamists taking control of Mogadishu. Now it had another problem: the SCIC's victory in Mogadishu and its 'creeping radicalism' was being perceived as a victory for jihadists worldwide.
There was never any question of direct US intervention - memories of the disastrous campaign in the Nineties that led to the 'Black Hawk Down' incident precluded that. But in Ethiopia Washington had an ally with no such inhibitions. Soon after the SCIC took power in Mogadishu, Ethiopia began sending thousands of troops over the border to protect the administration of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, which had no influence beyond its base of Baidoa.
Initially the US urged Ethiopia to act with restraint. But as the Islamists expanded their territory, neared Baidoa and began to talk about 'holy war' against Ethiopia this month, Washington's position changed. Jendayi Frazer, US Assistant Secretary of State, described the top layer of Islamists as 'extremists to the core'.
None the less, according to Professor Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College, North Carolina, Ethiopia's attack would have happened anyway: 'The US has given what the media calls "tacit approval" to Ethiopia, but anyone who follows the region knows that Ethiopia does what it wants to do.'
Bryden said the Ethiopians were now likely to push towards Kismaayo to ensure the SCIC is 'cut off and killed'. But while it will not be easy for them - Kenya has closed the border to the south - he thought it was likely that some of the Shabaab would slip away.
For all the Somali government's optimism, it faces a massive task. It is still deeply unpopular, especially in Mogadishu, and has achieved little since its formation two years ago. 'Either the government reforms and brings in communities that are estranged,' said Bryden, 'or Somalia simply relapses into the period before the courts came to power.'
That means warlordism, and fertile ground for the extreme remnants of the Islamists to launch an insurgency - and possibly regional terror attacks too.
Countdown to chaos
1960: Somalia independence.
1991: Somalia plunges into a civil war after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre is ousted. More than 100,000 people are killed and wounded, leading to internecine strife for the next 15 years.
1992: Massive UN relief operation begins to help thousands of civilians starving because of fighting.
December: UN Security Council endorses full-scale military operation led by the US.
October 1993: A US Black Hawk helicopter is brought down in Mogadishu during mission to capture two lieutenants of the Somali warlord General Aidid.
March 1994: US troops withdraw.
2000: Transitional National Government tries to unite warring Somalis.
2004: Ethiopian-backed warlord Abdullahi Yusuf is elected President.
2006: March/May Scores killed and hundreds injured in fighting between rival militias in Mogadishu.The Union of Islamic Courts takes control of the capital.
October 9: Union of Islamic Courts declares a holy war against Ethiopia.
December 12: Islamists tell Ethiopians to leave Somalia within seven days.
December 24: Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, says he is fighting the Islamists to protect his country - Ethiopia's first admission of military involvement.
December 28: Islamists flee Mogadishu.